What the Immigration Bill Overlooks

A bill backed by leading Republicans and Democrats, big business, and government-co-opted unions is bound to have missed some things.

In passing the monstrosity known as immigration “reform,” the Senate overlooked a few things of importance. This is unsurprising. A bill on immigration that is backed by leading Republicans and Democrats, big business, and government-co-opted unions is bound to have missed some things.

The bill, whose fate in the House is uncertain, would appropriate $40 billion over the next decade to “secure the border.” This would entail hiring 20,000 more border patrol agents and building 700 more miles of fence along the U.S.-Mexican border. The spending would include $4.5 billion on technology for surveillance. As the Washington Post reported, “The border security plan … includes unusual language mandating the purchase of specific models of helicopters and radar equipment for deployment along the U.S.-Mexican border, providing a potential windfall worth tens of millions of dollars to top defense contractors.”

The bill would also set up a procedure under which the 11 million human beings who are in the United States without government permission could become citizens in 13 years. To come “out of the shadows,” so-called illegal immigrants would have to pay fines and taxes. The New York Times notes that the “tough border security provisions … must be in place before the immigrants can gain legal status.”

In conventional terms, the bill seems fairly complete. So what does it overlook? Several things:

First, by nature all individuals — not just Americans — have rights. Specifically, they have a natural right to engage in any peaceful activity, that is, any conduct that does not aggress against other people. Among those rights, therefore, is the right to travel and settle anywhere, so long as no one else’s rights are violated. Considering that plenty of Americans would eagerly rent apartments to and hire, say, Mexicans, migration is included among the freedoms all people possess.

Second, and closely related, an ancient and honorable principle holds that an unjust law is no law at all (lex iniusta non est lex). The idea is that no one should be compelled to do what is unjust or be prevented from doing what justice requires or allows — such as freely moving about. Conservatives and progressives alike are vexed that the 11 million U.S. residents without papers violated the law to get here. How dare they! But according to the ancient principle, what they violated was a not a law but a mere legislative decree,  which conflicts with the natural law and hence is contrary to justice and freedom. It is an established maxim that no one is obligated to obey an unjust law. Since that’s the case, we should not be talking about amnesty for residents without papers; amnesty implies wrongdoing, and these human beings did nothing wrong. They should be left free to go about their lives. Incidentally, there also should be no amnesty for the government officials who have harassed residents without papers rather than leaving them in peace. “I was following orders” is no excuse.

Third, the free-enterprise system, which conservatives claim to support and pretend that we have, necessarily includes the freedom of business owners to hire whoever is willing to work for them. It is the height of hypocrisy for conservatives to call for harsh penalties on businesspeople who hire “illegal workers.” When it’s a choice between free enterprise and border control, most conservatives choose border control — and that speaks volumes. The flip side, of course, is that any individual should be free to accept a job offer from any business owner. The government — and all those who want a border lined with armed agents and barbed wire-adorned walls — should butt out.

Finally, if we mean what we say when we express sympathy for the world’s poor, we cannot in good conscience maintain barriers to free immigration. The foreign-born are people too, as deserving of a shot at the good life as any American. When individuals move from capital-poor to capital-rich societies, their productivity increases, enabling them to better provide for themselves and their families. (They also present new opportunities for exchange to the indigenous population.)

It is cruel and hypocritical for America not to do the one thing that would best lift the fortunes of the world’s poor and oppressed.

This article originally appeared at the Future of Freedom Foundation.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • ||

    One of my favorite Heinlein quotes "When a place gets crowded enough to require ID's, social collapse is not far away. It is time to go elsewhere. The best thing about space travel is that it made it possible to go elsewhere."

    I recently purchased my very first Passport. Kind of ironic - very ironic actually. Because the very reason I purchased this "ID" was to enable me to "go elsewhere". I really am seriously considering leaving this country because of its Orwellian crap. I used to travel to Canada all the time without a passport. Can't even do that anymore.

    Thanks Bush/Obama!!!

  • Hawk Spitui||

  • ||

    "What does democratic competition deliver?"

    This is your fatal flaw. You are looking at the world as though the nation-state paradigm is inevitable. The nation-state paradigm is the problem, not the solution.

  • Hawk Spitui||

    And your "solution" is what? Global homogination?

    I submit that your cure is worse than the disease.

  • ||

    My solution is property rights. Don't want someone on your property? With property rights you don't have to have that person on your property. If I do want to invite that person to work on my property you have no right to stop me from hiring that person.

  • Hawk Spitui||

    And, uh, just who is going to enforce those property rights? Your Shiney New One World Government?

  • ||

    One world government? I oppose ALL forms of coercive government, including the "one world" government.

    "One world government" is close to what we have now. Only three countries were brave enough to challenge the U.S. hegemony and offer asylum to Snowden whose only crime is letting the American People know just how evil the U.S. government has become.

    Who will enforce property rights? For one thing, people have a natural right to self-defense. They have a right to be armed. For another, private companies could offer contract services to help individuals protect these rights. Think ADT with its own armed force and the ability to actually pursue evildoers.

    This recent decision in favor of George Zimmerman has helped reinforce the right of self-defense.

    This is a good thing.

  • Hawk Spitui||

    Sure thing. That'll all happen right after angels and unicorns fly out of your ass.

    So what happens when there's more people wanting to take your property than there are of you to defend it? And why couldn't there be companies in the business of hijacking private property to be resold? Then you're back to "my company is bigger and meaner than your company".

  • ||

    Hawk Spitui,

    War, which is what you are describing, is expensive and only pays for itself if its costs are socialized, i.e. if taxpayers are saddled with the burden.

    http://mises.org/page/1432

  • Hawk Spitui||

    So... Which taxpayers are subsidizing the turf wars between the various drug cartels of Mexico? Which ones subsidized the turf wars between various organized crime syndicates in the US in the 20's and 30's?

    Seems to me there's enough profit at stake without the taxpayers getting involved.

    Thanks, but I'm a lot more inclined to draw my conclusions from actual historical events than from esoteric bullshit cranked out by some spergy economists.

  • ||

    Hawk Spitui,

    “So... Which taxpayers are subsidizing the turf wars between the various drug cartels of Mexico? “

    The U.S. Taxpayers who help fund the “War on Drugs” which actually increases the cost of the drugs and thus increases the profit margin for the drug pushers to extrodinary amounts..

    “Which ones subsidized the turf wars between various organized crime syndicates in the US in the 20's and 30's?”

    Same answer as above. The war on alchohol was no more successful than the war on other drugs is today. The concepts and results differ only in superficial ways. Instead of “The Mafia” we now have “Street Gangs”. Other than very superficial differenences the results are the same.

    “Seems to me there's enough profit at stake without the taxpayers getting involved.”

    Taxpayers are VERY involved in the War on Drugs.

  • Hawk Spitui||

    What you're ignoring is that these turf wars are are not contests between merchants and governments, they are wars for territory between competing merchants in an unregulated markets. What, pray tell, prevents similar turf wars between merchants of legal products in absence of regulated markets?

  • ||

    “they are wars for territory between competing merchants in an unregulated markets. What, pray tell, prevents similar turf wars between merchants of legal products in absence of regulated markets?”

    You have it backwards. These are the precise OPPOSITE of unregulated markets. They are so darn unregulated that they are illegal products. If these were truly unregulated the Crips and the Bloods could open up narcotics stores on the street corners the way liquor dealers can. There is a reason we don’t have street wars between Jack Daniels and Hennessey – at least not since the end of Prohibition. The reason is that the property rights of people who wish to sell these products are, if not fully respected by government, at least far more respected than those of drug dealers. Drug dealers are forced to, quite literally, sell on the street corner. They have to do this because their property rights are not respected. The street corners are “the commons” and so you have some of the same problems Old West cattle ranchers had when the had “free range” cattle on land which was “public” or which had no clear owner.

  • Hawk Spitui||

    So we're back to - who is enforcing the property rights of the liquor dealers? And in absence of that enforcement, why wouldn't they be in the same position as the dope dealers?

  • ||

    "And in absence of that enforcement"

    In the absence of government they would be able to enforce their own property rights or hire others to do it for them.

  • Hawk Spitui||

    *sigh*

    GOTO 3867247

    Look, if you want to spend the rest of the afternoon running the Libertarian Sophistry Hamster Wheel, just knock yourself out. But we've been through that before, and if you weren't to address the issues the first time through the loop, I doubt you're going to be doing any better on subsequent iterations. Now, it is time for my lunch. Good Day!

  • ||

    "and if you weren't to address the issues the first time through the loop,"

    I did address them, you just didn't like the answer.

  • John||

    Just for the record, it was the East India Tea Company that built a private Army and conquered India, not the British government. The British government only ended up ruling India after the East India Tea Company managed to screw up so badly the country revolted and the British Government had to intervene to save the British Citizens there.

    Now that didn't force the government to rule India. But the idea that corporations wouldn't, if they could, form armies and start acting like governments seems pretty naive.

  • ||

    John,

    Just for the record the East India Tea Company is a perfect example of governmental cronyism.

    http://mises.org/freemarket_de.....ontrol=288

  • John||

    Sure they were. But they were still a corporation. Just because said corporation was not above copting the government doesn't mean that they wouldn't do things like build and Army and conquer India had their been no government.

    There is nothing pure about corporations. They are just likely to do horrible things as any other human endeveur.

  • ||

    John,

    Corporations, as they currently are structured are creatures of the state by their very nature. They are chartered by the state after all. I am increasingly drawn to the so-called "libertarian left" a la the C4SS because they recognize this aspect of large corporations. So, yes, large corporations act like governments because they do the bidding of governments. What I support are small businesses that cater to the needs of the consumer, not the government.

  • ||

    FYI :

    Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Marshall Gill||

    It is cruel and hypocritical for America not to do the one thing that would best lift the fortunes of the world’s poor and oppressed.

    Invade their countries and kill their despotic leaders? I was not aware that we were responsible for the worlds poor and oppressed.

    Bastiat often mentioned unseen results. One of the largest unseen effects of amnesty is a giant FYTW to those who have been following the rules.

    It also exhibits a complete lack of understanding incentives. Why care what the new, "reformed" law is, break it now and in a couple of decades you too will receive amnesty a path to citizenship.

  • Finrod||

    Indeed. The United States compared to other countries has very lax immigration law and enforcement.

    If we want to fix immigration in the US, we need a guest worker system that isn't so arcane that actually works. Let in the people that want to be here and don't want to cause trouble through the front door, then we won't have tons of people trying to sneak in the back door and we can keep out the types that do want to cause trouble because they won't be hiding amidst everyone else.

  • Arn0||

    "The United States compared to other countries has very lax immigration law and enforcement."

    Witch countries ? North Corea ?

    I am French and the only country in the world (including Japan) where some of my friends have not been able to install is the USA (including people who had already find a very well pay job there).

  • ||

    I'm sorry, but what does this have to do with the impending race warz?

  • Hawk Spitui||

    Presumably they'll be a lot more fun if we invite more teams to participate.

  • ||

    While I would not exactly describe it as a "race war" there was a ‘Kill pigs’ riot in Oakland in response to Zimmerman verdict.

    http://www.bizpacreview.com/20.....dict-79653

  • Hawk Spitui||

    Woohoo! Time to call out the Anti-Racist!

  • Robert||

    Sheldon, I wouldn't say it "overlooks" those things, but that it denies them. I'm not a believer in "natural" rights or "natural" law myself, so even I don't attempt to assert them as facts, only as desires.

  • GW||

    Hell, why not just make anyone who comes here an automatic citizen with the right to vote? In that context the "free to travel" idea reveals its ultimate flaws.

  • OneOut||

    Yeah. A welfare state cannot afford open borders.

    If the immigration bill forced every wanna be citizen to sign a pledge that they acknowledge their portion of the Federal debt, and agree to have their paychecks garnished to start paying it off, many would probably choose to not become citizens.

  • John||

    It is cruel and hypocritical for America not to do the one thing that would best lift the fortunes of the world’s poor and oppressed.

    So if invading their country and deposing their tyrannical leaders would improve their lot, Reason would be okay with that too? What a pathetic load of horseshit that is. There may be lots of good reasons for open borders. But some kind of white man's burden to the rest of the world is not one of them. If Reason thinks that Americans owe the poor of the world some kind of duty to save them, they better think about that a bit, because that duty is going to extend to a lot more than just opening the borders.

    Is it too much to ask that Reason follow some consistent principles when arguing for things rather than just pulling any argument they think might work out of their asses with no regard for the implications that argument might have on other areas of policy?

  • Hawk Spitui||

    What are you trying to do - put 'em out of business?

  • Skip||

    I have little doubt that invading Mexico 150 years ago and Americanizing it would have produced a better country than it is now.

  • ||

    This is the only photo more overused than the Ed Snowden face shot.

  • Jayburd||

    Section 4, article 4

  • ShantiOwm||

    If we decide to punish the millions in shadows -we need to also punish ourselves because we had something to do to let it happen.

    I have been hearing that even the temporary legal status should not be given because that would mean we are rewarding those who disobeyed the law ......

    But nobody speaks the truth which is :
    This crisis of millions in the shadow happened due to wrong from both sides - the undocumented crossing illegally AND us, for not being able to handle this when it started happening decades ago; for not being efficient in having a system that works or employees who lacked efficiency for letting it happen, and NOW having us to pay through our nose.

    So, remember when you throw the blame on them and feel you are rewarding them,
    tell this to yourself: "we are having to pay for our own faults as well".

  • TexasRasta||

    One large thing overlooked is the welfare state and the means that progressives will go to, to help those poor disenfranchised group of people, the same help that was given the Native Americans and blacks in the 1960s. Regardless of what the bill says, the constitution allows any legal person the same rights as any citizen in the US, which means welfare and federal benefits. I am for open borders, provided the State rids our society of welfare.

  • Akdov Initram||

    The only way you can make our immigration system in America worse is turning the border into a DMZ where we pick off anyone getting in while we simultaneously make it a 13 year amnesty process for people inside and don't fix the problem of getting immigrants in efficiently.

    So, the Senate bill.

  • Jon Lester||

    I think it was early this year that Putin proposed a visa-free regime between the US and Russia, but it was the Obama/Biden administration that dismissed the idea out of hand.

  • DFrancis||

    Companies should be heavily fined and some of that cash should be awarded to Whistle Blowers who are suspicious of people employed in their factory, construction site, motel or any working location? The Entry and Exit fingerprint will go a long way to make Immigration agents aware of tourists or other visitors, who overstay their visas and able to track them. But whatever happens with the bill, it must be strictly enforced. America cannot afford another Amnesty as in the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control law. Another Simpson/Mazzoli bill will just be a repeat and instead of the 11 million supposedly here, (NOT A TRUE NUMBER) it will just be another flood of welfare people as we already have plenty of our own now, including deadbeats who have become a virus. Our highways are in a deplorable state, the infrastructure in poor repair and the drinking water supply in Western states is wanton? The only people who should be accepted into our nation are the highly educated STEM workers and not the illegal aliens who will mostly become a public charge. The illegal aliens who work the fields and given a free pass will abscond from their agricultural jobs as they did in 1986 and head for the big cities and communities.

  • DFrancis||

    Minority speaker John Boehner is being far too indefinable about what could come out of that conference. As the bill stands there is no recruitment for ICE personal and so we only have 5000 interior agents, to audit businesses, whereas the border gets 20000 more Border Patrol officers. The real problem has always been the gigantic draw of dishonest small and large businesses, which attract the foreign labor. Instead of this crazy number on the border, we should give more employment to agents who inspect companies for wrongdoing. Incessantly being examined for unauthorized workers, will sever that discount labor. Although the border needs more enforcement with the promised 700 mile double layer fencing, the heavy hand of ICE agents should be enforced to check workers status already hired and new arrivals throughout the United States. Any person who takes over from Janet Napolitano had better follow the “Rule of Law” and defend American citizens from another invasion; by installing the two fences; Entry and Exit system and E-Verify immediately as a mandated law. They should also revise the BIRTHRIGHT CITIZENSHIP LAW and amended it so no more illegal females can bring their babies here and claim citizenship, supplementing the family income with taxpayer dollars.

  • DFrancis||

    YOU CAN ALSO BLAST FAXES AT numbersusa and write your own message or copy the one exhibited. At americanpatrol is a daily report from newspapers across the country, illustrating the huge rise in drunk drivers, and other heinous crimes the left oriented press keeps concealed. .Urge your representatives by phoning any of the100 Senators and 435 Representatives for State or Federal at toll-free number -- 1-888-978-3094--.You may phone the United States Capitol circuit at (202) 224-3121. A terminal operator will connect you directly with the Senate office or just about anybody in Washington. ANY NEW LAW SHOULD ONLY BE CONSIDERED, IF IT ORIGINAL IS AMENDED PIECE BY PIECE?

    For legal information about corruption in Washington and in state assemblies is available at judicialwatch site. But rush!
    The House says it won't take up the Gang of Eight amnesty bill in their chambers—but they may consider it in a conference report between the House and Senate. This is dangerous territory my patriots?

  • DFrancis||

    If the GOP passes the Senate Amnesty without serious changes, it'll be suicide for America.

    Should the GOP allow the Gang of Eight amnesty bill to move forward it turn our great nation into a corrupt, socialist dictatorship known as Mexico or many others repressive countries.

    Remember, this whole thing is about votes for the Democrats—millions upon millions of them you can estimate that two out of three of those given amnesty would vote Democrat. Whereas the Republicans are under the thumb of the business special interests, who want that cheap labor that has always poured across borders.

    You can help stop it.

  • Acosmist||

    I don't give a damn about the poor and oppressed. GW Bush sure did. So we're taking advice from him now? Invade the world, invite the world, in hock to the world? That worked out great!

    And so the libertarian blind spot continues. Good luck with your 1% of the vote, forever.

  • The Realist||

    I used to be one of those brainwashed Neocon Republicans when I was a teenager. I listened to too much Rush Limbaugh and I internalized the message. I believed that Democrats were the real racists, the free market was the answer to everything, and that the welfare state was "keeping the black man down." Looking back now, I can't believe how stupid I was. Coming from a Republican family in a very Republican part of the country, I was simply not exposed to alternative views, to the alternative evidence.

    It all changed when I went to college. I met many liberals and started to see reality more and more. My first girlfriend in college was Korean who voted for Obama. Why? She told me that when her parents immigrated, they had supported themselves on food stamps and welfare while they "built that," eventually owning a business and becoming well off. She supported the free enterprise system, but thought that the welfare state was necessary for the poor to "get a leg up", as the saying goes. And her parents were proof that could happen.

  • The Realist||

    The neo-con explanation for things had some serious flaws. In my history class, the class had a debate about why the city of Detroit was such a hellhole. The only other Republican in the class gave the usual neo-con explanations of "socialism" "unions" "the welfare state" and "the collapse of the family." The rest of the class ridiculed him. I wanted to defend him out of simple partisanship, but I also thought his explanation was unsatisfactory. The collage town I lived in was as "socialist" as Detroit and it was a great place to live. Did the "welfare state" not apply to everyone else? What was wrong with Unions, I asked? And why did families in Detroit collapse so much more than families outside Detroit? What characteristic was unique to Detroit?

  • The Realist||

    It was there, in college, where I was introduced to the Dark Enlightenment. I read about race differences in intelligence, the elephant in the room of American politics. Here was an explanation that, unlike liberal and neocon explanations, actually was backed up by the data. This immigration bill, and your argument for it, is one more neocon project based on a fundamentally flawed assumption, that all people everywhere are equal in all attributes. You speak in favor of having "empathy" for the poor of the world, but why don't you ask yourself why those countries are poor? Countries, especially democracies, are defined by the people who live there. America is America because it is full of Americans. And nigeria is Nigeria because it is filled with Nigerians. You know where else is full of Nigerians?

    The immigration bill, not to mention your recommendation of open borders, will fundamentally transform America. We will be less like America and more like the countries the immigrants will come from. We will have massive taxes, much more affirmative action, gun control, more family dysfunction, everything you say you hate, this bill will make it a reality.

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  • Jon Lester||

    KhimkiForest dot com. You will care.

  • ||

    I agree with much of what you say, but are these undocumented immigrants required to pay federal and state income taxes like the rest of us to pay for the welfare and medical benefits they receive?
    I can understand why undocumented immigrants would want to come here for jobs and benefits their home countries can't or won't provide. But as Milton Friedman said "it’s one thing to have free immigration to jobs, it’s another thing to have free immigration to welfare. And you cannot have both."

    When my grandfather came to America from Croatia in 1914, he had to be healthy, have a sponsor, and prove he would not be a public charge. The same applied when he sought to bring his wife and child here in 1920 after WWI.

    He did so, and though he never made big bucks as a short order cook and later, a restaurant chef, he supported his family and never had to apply for, or needed public assistance. That is the way it should be for all immigrants aspiring to become citizens.

  • 4thaugust1932||

    You should be concerned about the creeping Caste system in USA due to H1B/Immigrants from India.
    Caste system is worse than terrorism. It's a slow poison that will destroy your middle class.
    Google "Companies ruined or almost ruined by Indians"

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